How One Vogue Designer Is Embracing Native Hawaiian Tradition

How One Vogue Designer Is Embracing Native Hawaiian Tradition

From her dwelling on the sleepy island of Molokai, the fifth largest within the Hawaiian Islands chain, Kanoelani Davis brings beautiful creations to life via materials, patterns, motifs, and the tales of her ancestors and her Island.


ōMahina Designs is described as a wearable artwork firm imbued in essence and tradition, steeped in reviving elemental historical names and tales of previous via geometry and line artwork. Each bit is crammed with mythology and historical past.

PōMahina in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi means night time moon, which Davis describes as a transparent and brilliant moon. Whether or not seen or unseen, she encompasses the night time sky from horizon to horizon, bringing an power that’s shared with the world.

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However the “designs” a part of PōMahina Designs weren’t all the time meant to be wearable–their job was to inform tales, wealthy as the colourful colours and patterns that assist convey these tales to life.

“I wasn’t attempting to get into style. Vogue was a label positioned upon me by those that have been nonetheless attempting to grasp me and had the necessity to establish me,” Kanoelani displays.

How One Vogue Designer Is Embracing Native Hawaiian Tradition
Kanoelani Davis

“The muse of PōMahina Designs was to protect the historic names of parts to proceed to breathe life into our tradition and for it to be retained by the subsequent era,” Davis explains. “PōMahina’s goal was to attach self to the ʻāina, the kai, and the weather. For this goal, I did a full line in 2019 at London Vogue Week referred to as Elemental Consciousness. We’re right here to strengthen cultural identification for Kānaka Maoli and to attach the world to our clothes and designs to teach others of who we deeply are.”

Whether or not intentional or unintended, the style world has allowed Davis to convey the tales and great thing about Hawaiʻi, significantly the tradition and historical past of its folks and the islands’ pure atmosphere, to the world. Davis has been capable of inform these tales on the runways of New York, Paris, and London in a means that’s genuine, and not using a coconut shell bra or grass skirt in sight.

However–and right here’s the massive however–she makes all of it FUN. Kanoelani Davis does all the things with model, humor, and pleasure, however all the time with a no-BS angle that she by no means apologizes for.

Davis’ designs are all in regards to the ‘āina, the ocean, the attractive, peaceable place she calls dwelling. And it’s not nearly the fantastic thing about the place however the deep-rooted connections which were shaped there for tons of of years. Her kūpuna (ancestors) are buried within the land and at sea, and their mana is all over the place.

“I converse to the wind, and I ask for rain. As Indigenous folks, the weather and pure sources are in the beginning. We’re the land, and we’re the sky. If we handle these issues, they handle us,” Davis says.

A go to to the PōMahina Designs web site attracts guests in with stunning colours and patterns that make buyers wish to be taught extra about them. There’s one thing for everybody there—girls, males, youngsters—that includes all the things from streetwear to enterprise informal garments, umbrellas, yoga mats, and head-to-toe equipment, together with jewellery and motif-bearing canvas sneakers.

Kanoelani Davis

Most objects are customizable and really size-inclusive, permitting buyers to decide on patterns to create their very own good garment. There are almost 50 patterns to select from, together with motifs like the colourful ʻōhiʻa lehua flower that tells a tragic love story involving the Hawaiian goddess Pele or the placing symmetrical niho (tooth) patterns signify shark’s enamel.

“I provide a variety of choices on my web site as a result of I would like you to really feel very particular once you put on my garments. I don’t need you to fret about being at an occasion and carrying one thing another person has on. That’s why there are such a lot of sample selections in quite a lot of kinds,” Davis explains.

Whereas the clothes and equipment on the PōMahina web site are dimension and magnificence inclusive, it’s solely pure for potential clients to wonder if or not it’s alright to buy this #modernmaoli put on if they don’t seem to be Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians). To that, Kanoelani solutions with a convincing “ʻAe” (Sure).

Kanoelani Davis

“PōMahina Designs was created for everybody. We hope that individuals who put on these designs can share our story with the world,” Davis says. “I’m acutely aware and conscious that anybody can put on my garments as a result of I do know they admire and love who we’re as Kānaka Maoli.”

Naturally, the continuum that exists between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation comes into play when buying and, extra importantly, carrying designs and motifs from cultures aside from your individual. Determining simply the place one thing sits on that continuum isn’t all the time simple, however taking the time to be taught, to actually perceive the meanings of the patterns, colours, and designs that you simply put in your physique, takes you out of the exploitative, disrespectful, or stereotypical method that defines appropriation.

Sure, dressing up as a Native American for Halloween is cultural appropriation.

For her half, Kanoelani needs to be part of that academic course of, and she or he tries to satisfy folks the place they’re. She’s obtained an enormous presence on social media, which she credit to her international publicity, the place she shares her mana‘o (beliefs) in enjoyable and entertaining methods. She goes deeper together with her Mana Bombs podcast, digging into her ‘ike Hawaiʻi (information of Hawaiʻi) and sharing her unapologetic Native Hawaiian intelligence.

Kanoelani Davis

But it surely’s not a one-way road.

“I’m right here to inform our folks’s story and proceed this common understanding of appreciation and aloha via style, design, and clothes. I would like you to have interaction and ask me the questions. I would like you to ask me how I got here up with one thing and what it means. The extra we’ve these conversations worldwide, the better it’s to get this sense of confidence to help and admire.”

She displays that it’s additionally essential to do your homework earlier than you begin asking questions.

“Beneath Western philosophy, you’d most likely flip to a guide. However in Native areas, we be taught in numerous methods. First, is to watch. Simply shut your mouth and simply observe. Listen. After which, once you ask questions, assume earlier than you ask. Taking the time to watch will permit us to develop the questions we have to ask. The proper questions. That takes time. Additionally, expertise–get on the market, and fail a few instances. You’ll decide up classes actually rapidly once you fail. You must have that non-public expertise to actually and deeply perceive what it means. You can not get that from a guide, you can’t Google that.”

One other of Davis’ largest reflections on the subject is why we even need to make these designations within the first place.

“We will’t transfer ahead with out addressing the therapeutic course of,” says Davis. “We’re nonetheless therapeutic. This concern of appreciation and appropriation wouldn’t even be a problem had there not been one thing incorrect within the first place. I’m personally working via a few of these triggers and traumas via my work.”

In her case, and the case of Kānaka Maoli, that trauma comes by the hands of colonialism and the next near-elimination of historical Hawaiian customs, language, and lifestyle. And, let’s face it, among the modern-day ramifications of colonialism are nonetheless evident in the present day, due to the tourism business.

This dialog of what’s and isn’t culturally applicable can and also needs to carry over to what’s and isn’t applicable as a traveler to a tradition exterior one’s personal. These ideas of doing all of your homework, studying greater than what’s simply on the floor, observing, after which asking sensible questions are all relevant to journey.

At 32 miles lengthy and 10 miles extensive, with no cease indicators or franchises—that’s how Kanoelani describes her Island in an effort to assist folks perceive the distinctive lifestyle that’s lived on Molokai. It’s an island flanked by sprawling fringe reefs and among the tallest sea cliffs on the earth. The proper sense of stillness and reverence permeates the island. It’s a spot of timeless magnificence that its residents fiercely defend.

Though the PōMahina Designs tagline is: “Molokai Made. Molokai Impressed.” Kanoelani doesn’t need everybody to hurry out and purchase a ticket to go to Molokai.

“We’re asking for a moratorium on guests for a couple of years,” explains Davis. “We nonetheless want a while for our island to relaxation as a result of guests are coming, however they aren’t leaving. We wish people to return, spend cash, and go dwelling. A giant concern that we’re having is folks eager to retire on Molokai, however they don’t anticipate simply how totally different it’s from residing anyplace else. Everybody needs to return right here for the peace, but when everybody strikes right here, then it’s going to find yourself no totally different than the place they left.”

Davis doesn’t simply speak the speak; she is very energetic in serving to to find out the way forward for tourism on her island, each on the native and state stage. Whereas residents may be discouraging guests to the island, for now, Kanoelani makes use of PōMahina—together with a few of her different ventures like her MANA Bombs podcast—to inform the tales of Molokai and Hawai‘i and the folks and locations that make it particular. Whereas Kanoelani doesn’t converse for all Indigenous folks and even for all Kānaka Maoli (Indigenous Native Hawaiians), her experiences are deeply rooted in native traditions and tradition.

However PōMahina Designs is for everybody, and, as with each style and journey, Davis encourages people to be brave.

“You’re going to make errors and also you’re going to offend,” she says. “It’s what you do with that info that makes all of the distinction in whether or not you admire or applicable.”

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